Label volunteer, Rebecca Pearson, shares her favourite Shakespearean plays and adaptations as this past week was Shakespeare week.
Since Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, and collaborated on even more, it is likely that there will be something for everyone. Between comedies, histories and tragedies, as well as themes of love, death and folly, to name but a few, Shakespeare’s legacy has well and truly surpassed his time, and still continues to intrigue and excite popular imagination today.
Whilst whittling down Shakespeare’s plays to distinguish some favourites is no easy task, it is his comedy, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, which has never ceased to bore. I would argue it is also Shakespeare’s most light-hearted play and one of the easiest to enjoy. The play focuses on the contest of appearance versus reality, order and disorder, and love at first sight. It follows Hermia and Lysander as they decide to elope against the will of Hermia’s father, as well as the unrequited love of Helena for Demetrius. Of course, Shakespeare makes it more complicated than that because Demetrius loves Hermia too, and they all end up in a forest – a setting which is symbolic for disorder since it is far away from civilisation. To add yet another layer of wonder, Shakespeare also douses the play in fairy magic, allowing the fairies to meddle and wreak havoc in the human world. As a result, the four brawling lovers are made to fall in love with whoever they set their eyes upon first. It is a play where nothing is as it seems. So, since only the audience knows what is truly going on, it is amusing to watch the folly of others whilst knowing that you, the viewer, is entirely untouched by it.
For one of Shakespeare’s darker and more striking tragedies, ‘Othello’ is the play that stands out the most. The play sees the battle for power between Othello and Iago, yet only the audience knows that Iago deceives him. On the surface, Iago is Othello’s greatest companion, heralded as ‘honest’ throughout the play – a phrase which becomes increasingly ironic when the audience becomes ever more aware that he is anything but. There are many thought-provoking adaptations of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, most notably The Globe’s 2018 production starring Mark Rylance as Iago, as well as Iqbal Khan’s 2015 adaptation with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The latter of which, in particular, is a modern take on Shakespeare’s traditional play which is set in an army camp, and was considered especially ground-breaking as the first production of ‘Othello’ at the RSC to cast a black actor as Iago. It marked an interesting power dynamic between the characters given that Othello is originally a black character, often provoking critics to assert that Iago, typically a white character, and his desire to reduce Othello’s power had racial motivations.
For a final Shakespearean recommendation, ‘Twelfth Night’ is another jolly comedy. ‘But I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.’ so speaks Sir Andrew, and I believe this quote indicates the comical tone which pervades throughout the whole play. Viola and her twin brother, Sebastian, have been shipwrecked, and each believes that the other has been drowned. As such, Viola disguises herself as a young man, under the name of Cesario, and gets a job as a servant for the Duke. It is a play of trickery, of disguise, and of quick-wit, and it is the National Theatre Company’s 2017 adaptation, with Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, which is random, funny and wonderful all at once.
Whilst these are just a few recommendations, Shakespeare’s extensive legacy and modern adaptations ensure that his plays are continually remixed and remade. And, since his plays’ thematic undercurrents deal with timeless subjects, it is so easy to critique and enjoy Shakespeare’s works as a contemporary viewer today.
Header by Christos Alamaniotis, Head of Design
Edited by Uchenna Omo-Bamawo, Culture Editor